The Reading Room

Writing about writing about music.

Henry writes about music and music books for ND, The Bluegrass Situation, Country Standard Time, Publishers Weekly, and more.

The Reading Room

Writing about writing about music.

Henry writes about music and music books for ND, The Bluegrass Situation, Country Standard Time, Publishers Weekly, and more.

Is Classic Rock Dead?

Artist Steven Hyden
Other tags Classic Rock

This article and the subject matter reminds me of some liner notes that Stephen King wrote about an artist back in 1993 that sort of encapsulates what you are talking about here...the artist he is writing about is Michael McDermott, who I had never heard at the time the words were written (and I am sort of a late convert to McDermott, who I do believe is the best artist I've heard in probably 20 years) but they do a nice job of saying what it is we love about the best rock and roll, classic or otherwise...this is just part of those liner notes...but King could be talking about any great new artist that you discover that still make you feeel the way you felt when you listened to all the old artists mentioned above: Michael came along at a good time for me; a vital time. Until Owen handed me Gethsemane on Father's Day two years ago, I had an idea that I had finally gotten too old to rock and roll, had lost my taste and feel for it, and I can't tell you how sad that made me. Rock has been a part of my life since I first heard Jerry Lee Lewis yelling "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" from my mother's Philco. She changed the station to Perry Como; I changed it back; she changed it to Dino Martino; I changed it back again; she gave up in disgust and there it stayed, tuned to the big beat of the pounding pianos and screaming guitars, for the next forty years or so. Rock--the disco, the punk, the anthems--has expanded my life, made it joyful, and maybe saved it once or twice. It saved my sanity for sure, because rock is the most wonderful music on earth. "It just makes people feel good," Fats Domino once said, and how right he was.

To see all that slip away was a little like dying. I never thought the music had died, God, no; I could see my kids digging everyone from Pearl Jam to Ministry and knew it was my problem, not theirs, and certainly not the music's. Then Michael shows up, the way someone always seems to show up when you're feeling dark and not much like dancing anymore. The older kid found him, gave him to the younger kid, and the younger kid gave him to me like a cool drink when I was thirsty. I listened, and there was all of the old magic in new hands.

Michael McDermott is the great album that Gethsemane almost was, it seems to me. I've listened to it over and over, and there's no letdown. You know how it usually is: the hooks get dull and you move on to the next one. On rare albums--Born to Run, Wavelength, the first Marshall Crenshaw record--they get sharper and sharper until finally there's blood on the tracks. And for me, that's what rock and roll music has always been about: upping the emotional ante until it hurts and heals in equal measure, until the blood shows and you feel like your face is about to blow off.

We will probably always be chasing that feeling and trying to explain it...and new artists will try to replicate it...and few will succeed...

hell no man ... Ace is back, and he told ya so ... give it 10 years and everyone will be wearing Slash hats and slinging Les Pauls because at the end of the day, it's about songs, instruments and, as Sammy said, there really is only one way to rock ....

Classic rock turned into cartoon rock with Alice Cooper, Kiss, etc.

If you are interested in the Jesus Rock Scene,  "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock" is a good read.  It came out in March and chronicles the rise and fall of the grandfather of Christian rock.



"Remember the girls who acted untouchable 'cause they dated singers in  Christian rock bands?"

Great song.  I grew up in the Evangelical Ghetto so I'm more than a little familiar with this stuff.  Poor Larry Norman was the epitome of cuckold.  His wife slept with everything that moved while Larry was out evangelizing. 

That is a great song...I do remember Larry Norman quite well actually, and had a record of his, which wasn't bad actually...the album cover was a painting (Portrait) of him and not a picture...I think it was called "Another Land"...a guy that roomed with us for a summer during the college days had the record, he played it quite a bit...I know absolutely nothing about Larry or his wife...I suppose one could say there was a price to be paid for proselityzing in that situation, and he paid it...he was more committed to the word than she was apparently...

Wouldn’t Christian rock live forever?

I was at the public library yesterday and saw Led Zeppelin's first three albums (CDs) for sale for $1 each.  If classic rock isn't dead it is on life support and soon the market audience for those money-making deluxe edition outtakes from ZoSo releases will be dead as well.

This more about semantics and business than music, but if you want to hear something new that rocks like a mutha, try Walter Salas-Humara's "Walterio."

Article headlines that end in a question mark can usually be answered "no". Otherwise why ask?

Next year it's 50 years since Led Zeppelin released their first album. Fifty years before that was 1919 and music went through a lot of changes in between. The difference betweeen the music of today and 1969 is a lot less, especially when you consider all the Americana artists who draw heavily from the Band, the Dead, the Stones and Neil Young.

Where classic rock really lives on today is in mainstream country music. It's just pickup trucks instead of VW buses and whiskey instead of weed. 

If classic rock truly lives on in main stream country music it is beyond dead and maggots have found the body.  But then again I recall Kenny Chesney kicking off a recent concert by shouting "And right now... right now... right now it's time to... kick out the jams, mother %^&$ers!"  

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Ah what the hell since I'm stuck with a second post.......and still no delete button!

Thass some classic rock and roll there R...Detroit had some good ones...Mitch Ryder, Iggy/Stooges, early Bob Seger...and then they had Motown too...

"Clearly, my definition of ‘classic rock’ is shaped by classic-rock radio..."

Classic Rock is a radio term but none of the artists mentioned make up today's Classic Rock radio.   

The iconic Classic Rock stations (WAXQ in NYC, KOST in LA) are more apt to play Def Leppard and Journey than the Stones and the Who.   Mountain?   Theme has probably made it to the airwaves a handful of times over the past couple years on an Adult Album Alternative station.   Mississippi Queen isn’t even a Classic Rock song anymore.   If it gets played at all on radio, it is more likely an AAA or an Active Rock station.  

Classic Rock may have died in 1973 but the average year of a Classic Rock station right now is more likely 1979.    You’ll hear a lot of Joan Jett and Tom Petty but less of the Beatles and nothing from Grand Funk outside of American Band and the chance spin of Loco Motion.    

Listening to Classic Vinyl on XM the other day the DJ described the set as “the first wave of classic rock”.  Probably a transitional phrase as each generation ages.  

Their Classic Vinyl is more like Classic Rock from the 70's and 80's.   Or at least the Classic Rock stations that didn't treat the hair band c**p as Classic Rock.   Fortunately I grew up listening to a couple of those.   I believe Sirius has another channel that is closer to what most Classic Rock stations play now.  Classic Rewind or something like that.   


The defintion of classic rock has been expanded (inflated) to be about as selective as the criteria to get someone into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If the Baseball Hall of Fame used the same criteria it would be full of .175 batters and pitchers with 7.8 ERAs.